Is Running Making You Look Older? (plus, how to Protect Your Face When Running)

Running is a high impact sport that puts a lot of stress on your body, especially the joints—but could it also make your face look older?

The answer isn’t all white or black, as we’re going to see in today’s post.

I’ll do my best to separate the facts from the myths and give you the real, science-backed truth about runners’ face. By the end of this article, not only will you learn that there’s no such a thing as a runner’s face, but also how to protect your face when running outdoor.

Let’s get started.

Runner’s Face Revealed

“Runner’s Face” refers to the allegedly premature-aging phenomenon that plagues the appearance of runners in their 30’s and beyond. The theory, according to the believers, running’s up-and-down motion causes the skin to lose its elasticity, forcing the cheeks and other facial structures to sag.

But is it true? Is there any evidence behind this?

The bouncing face theory is nothing but an urban legend as there no sound scientific proof behind it. It’s mostly anecdotal evidence or “sponsored articles” by beauty clinic firms trying to get more (insecure) customers to go under the knife. Do I want to put fillers in my face? No, thank you!

But this still doesn’t explain why do some endurance athletes may look years beyond their actual age.

There are actually a few reasons, and these have nothing to do with the repetitive bouncing experienced during training.

Let’s get to the truth.

The Free Radical Theory

Research suggests that running and other forms of cardio training can cause free-radical stress that may damage collagen and elastin, the skin’s most vital supportive fibers.

When you exercise, your body develops free radicals from training stresses, which is a natural response from the process of recovering and patching up the muscles.

The problem is, depending on length, type, nutrition, and recovery time, the free radicals excess can accumulate and can damage the cells, which we usually associate with aging.

Is It Hopeless?

Don’t throw your running shoes into the trash yet.

While there’s enough evidence to conclude that cardio training may cause free radical damage, a study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine reported that only extremely intense training results in cell damage.

So, what qualifies as extremely intense?

Any training for 90 minutes or longer at 70 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate, according to research. Maybe this is the reason you’re more likely to notice some of these effects on serious endurance runners who log a lot of miles every week.

Mild intensity is defined as training at 50 to 60 percent of maximum heart rate three to five times a week. In other words, if you’re a recreational runner performing most of your runs outside of the intense category, then you shouldn’t worry about scaling back your running to protect your precious face.

Regular exercise, especially running, is one of the major triggers for healthy skin. Exercising regularly can increase circulation, improve bone density, and upgrade your immune system, which may grant your skin a more youthful and lively appearance.

That’s not the whole story. Exercise is also one of the best anti-aging measures you can take for your lungs, heart, brain, productivity, and brainpower.

It’s the impact of the environment that you should worry about.

The Sun

Running outdoors, especially when doing 2+ hours long runs—mean lots of sun exposure. So you know, every minute under the sun is counted as one exposure, so two hours rack up to roughly 120 exposures. That’s quite a lot!

UV light attacks different layers of your skin, causing uneven pigmentation, age spots, loss of elasticity and volume, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. No joke! Research attribute roughly 80 percent of the signs of aging to sun damage.

Air Pollution

Excessive sunlight isn’t the only culprit behind skin damage. As it turns out, air pollution could also contribute to the formation of your less-than-radiant complexion of late.

In fact, exposure to air pollution can drastically increase signs of skin aging, according to a study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Research has also linked pollution to worsening chronic or genetic skin conditions such as hives and eczema.

To determine the impact of the pollution in your area, check the Dermalogica’s Skin Pollution Index. The higher the number,  the greater the impact on your skin.

How to Protect Your Face When Running Outdoor

Here are a few preventative measures you can take to help keep your face look young and lively, especially when you’re logging serious miles every week.

Use Sunscreen

Please don’t be sexist. Sunscreen isn’t only females. Using the right sunscreen can help limit your exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays and reduce your risk of sunburn.

Go for a sunscreen that protects against all types of UV rays, often referred to as “broad spectrum” with at least 30 SPF. You may also consider getting a spray sunscreen as it is easy to re-apply during long runs. Don’t forget SPF lip balm.

Slather on your sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before you venture out. This gives your skin enough time to absorb all the goodness the sunscreen has to offer.

What’s more?

Research revealed that sunscreen typically starts to lose effectiveness at roughly the two-hour mark, or even sooner if you sweat profusely, therefore, make sure to reapply if you’re going to run for a long period of time.

Have sensitive and acne-prone skin? Stick with 50. Don’t go higher than that since the higher SPF, the higher the comedogenic effect.

Wear A Hat And Sunglasses

To protect your head and eyes from the sun, wear a hat or sun visor when running outdoor. This not only helps shade your face but also soaks up the sweat, making it for a comfortable run.

Sunglasses can also come in handy, especially for protecting your eyes against UV rays that bounce off the pavement or sand, which can lead to pterygium, ocular melanoma, and cataracts.

Just make sure to choose sunglasses that offer UV/UVB protection. Avoid using stylish eyewear that lacks these protective filters as more light will be coming through your pupils.

Don’t Run Shirtless

A big mistake I see many runners make during the summer is going shirtless. This not only exposes your skin to more sun, but it also keeps you warmer than if you wore a good wicking shirt. When exercising shirtless, the sweat sticks around on your skin, keeping you warm.

On the other hand, putting on technical, high performance, a shirt will help wick away the sweat off your skin and keep your dry and comfortable.

Just make sure you choose the right shirt, preferably made from breathable, lightweight, fabrics. This helps your body breathe and cool itself.

You should also look for clothing designed with Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF. The higher the UPF rating, the more protection for your skin.

For instance, a shirt with UPF of 50 will let in roughly 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin.

Or you can simply get sun-protective sleeves for exposed arms.

Whatever you do, avoid cotton. The materials have a UPF factor of roughly 5-7, allowing for extra radiation to reach your skin.

Eat Lots of Antioxidants

As already mentioned, free radicals can take a toll on your skin.

Luckily, you can thwart potential damage from excess free radicals by consuming plenty of foods that are high in antioxidants.

Examples include:

  • Kiwi
  • Pineapple
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Broccoli
  • Green and red peppers

What’s more?

You should also increase your intake of vegetables and fruits containing carotenoids (antioxidants for your skin), such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, papaya, and mango. Skin supplements like vitamin A and E can be a great friend too.

Conclusion 

I hate to disappoint you, but there isn’t such a thing as runners face. The up-and-down movement is nothing to worry about, and it’s definitely not going to age your skin faster.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protect your face when running outdoor. By taking the above steps, you can drastically slow down the aging of your skin.